Developmental education is an approach to education in the field of higher learning which focuses on helping students to reach their full potential. While developmental education often focuses on learners who are struggling, it is applicable to students at all levels of ability. Many colleges have programs which provide assistance to students of all levels, and developmental educators can be found associated with these programs and working in professional organizations which are designed to advance this field within the education community.
The precepts of developmental education are rooted in learning theory and developmental psychology. Learning theory involves the wide range of ways in which people learn and acquire knowledge, and how learning can be improved and made accessible for people people, while developmental psychology concerns the development of the brain and mind as people mature. The integration of these fields is critical to helping students learn effectively.
Advocates for developmental education point out that people learn in a wide variety of ways, and that with a little bit of assistance, students can often achieve high levels of academic performance. Assistance can take a number of forms, including tutoring and coaching, special classes, homework help, counseling, and accommodations for test taking. Developmental educators try to avoid the term “remedial” when discussing the programs they work in, to avoid stigmatizing or humiliating students. By assisting students who may be struggling, developmental educators can give these students a chance to succeed, rather than allowing them to fall by the wayside.
Academic success is very important to developmental educators, as is demonstrable progress made by a student enrolled in a developmental education program. A number of tools can be used to see how successful a student is, including looking at test results, examining written papers, and interviewing the student to see if he or she is becoming more confident, capable, and self-assured. Goals may be set for a student at an early stage, so that a frame of reference can be created for evaluating progress.
Although developmental education is very focused on how students learn and improving student capabilities, it also encompasses other aspects of the student, including physical health and emotional well-being. By looking at the whole student, educators acknowledge that learning does not occur in a vacuum, and that it is important to address issues like home life when dealing with a student who needs some extra help. Occasionally, students need help with social and psychological problems much more than assistance with school work, and developmental education approaches can provide this needed support.